Dan Nevans reviews ‘The Stout Collection’

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Dan Nevans

Three Orkney businesses all contributed to bringing you this very well presented book: The Orkney Brewery, Sheila Fleet Jewellery and The Brig Larder restaurant. I suppose that’s a sign of the character of this collection as a whole.

To me, the central themes that radiate from this collection are Family, History and Home. The book opens with a history of The Ba‘, a famous Orkney tradition. It’s essentially a mass football game played across Kirkwall at Christmas and on Hogmanay (unless they fall on the Sabbath). It’s nothing to do with piping but is connected to the Stout’s as Jim Stout and his sons are former winners of the Ba and a Stout presence in the game has been recorded going back to at least 1950. This is a great start to a book that tells such vivid tales about an Orcadian family and its music, a theme that we encounter throughout this collection. 

Jim Stout has worn many hats in his piping career. Having been brought up in a piping family (Jim’s father played in the Seaforths under Pipe Major Donald MacLeod) on Orkney, he was taught by Andrew Calder through the pipe band of Kirkwall Boys’ Brigade and eventually played in the Kirkwall City Pipe Band. 

“An education in charm.”

In 1981, Jim joined the British Army and following basic training was sent to the famous training depot at Bridge of Don where he received tuition from Pipe Sergeant Willie Rigg and Pipe Major Iain Morrison.

Completing his Pipe Major’s course in 1989, Jim has since been Pipe Sergeant of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, Pipe Sergeant of the Army piping and drumming wing, Pipe Major of The Highlanders, Pipe Major of the Royal School of Signals and the Army School of Piping and Highland Drumming.

Finally, in 2006, Jim took up that most storied of roles as the 11th Sovereign’s Piper.

Since retiring from the Army Jim has held a position in the Army Cadet Training force and the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board as well as enjoying a two-year term teaching in Oman with the Royal Oman Police. Jim is also a member of the Atholl Highlanders and Pipe Major of the Queen’s Own Highlanders Regimental Association pipe band. 

Isla Stout is on the cusp of graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA in Traditional Music (Bagpipes). In fact, as I write, Isla has just performed her final recital. Isla was the first female Pipe Major of the Army Cadet Force Pipes and Drums and has performed and taught everywhere from Oman to Cuba in recent years.

Very recently Isla performed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Pipeline to showcase pieces from this collection.

Delivered in a very handsome burgundy and gold design by Davie Hunter (premier designer and formatter of piping books), The Stout Collection boasts 54 tunes (one for every week of the year and two spare for holidays). Emblazoned throughout with a symbol of Orcadian culture, the Maeshowe Dragon greets us on the corner of every page and guards the face and back of the book. As previously mentioned you will find pieces here titled for family and friends, pets, acquaintances and events throughout the lives of the Stouts. 

Compositional styles vary throughout this collection. Most collections are compilations of composers or a definitive era of composition by one composer. Either way, we have the effect of one voice developing and experimenting in their musical style or a selection of many voices forming an artistic buffet that the reader can choose from. In this book, however, we are presented with two composers intrinsically linked by their personal relationship and influences. Jim Stout’s tunes I felt had lots of hints of Donald MacLeod and really the composer’s formative years in the 1980s/90s. A piece that I will adopt for recitals is the hornpipe, The Hornblower. The syncopated nature of the melody, it’s mature usage and evolution of that tied note effect around a very traditional A Major sequence I found really enjoyable and look forward to performing the piece. 

Isla’s tunes are interesting to me as a spectator. For the past four years Isla has been living in a world of purely piping. Studying music in any style (University or Conservatoire) will present the performer with new influences and new visions of how music can be composed, arranged and performed. For such a young composer to have created this much music is to be commended and I feel that Isla is only just beginning to compose.

The Maeshowe Dragon, one of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Orkney. Thought to have been carved in the 12th century, by an invading Norseman, Maeshowe is in the parish of Stenness in Orkney’s West Mainland.

As I played through the book and made notes on pieces that stuck out to me, I noticed that there are lots of voices appearing in Isla’s composing style. The 6/8 march Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gilmour MBE, DE speaks to me of Big Ian Duncan’s tunes like Pipe Sergeant John Barclay. There is a use of space in the melody that is strong and melodically clear without stopping and starting. This is not something solely found in Big Ian’s work but is a positive trope of mid to late 20th century light music composition.

One could argue there are hints of Peter MacLeod Senior’s work whispering through, too. On the other hand, Pipe Major G. S. MacLennan’s canon could easily claim The Gloup. The rolling nature of the melodic line and the mature closing phrase of each part is what sets this piece apart from G.S.’ more groove based productions. 

There’s a lot to like about The Stout Collection. A snapshot of a family’s piping life. The adventures and tales preserved in the music. My overarching feeling after having played through the tunes and read all the dedications was one of warmth and comfort. I really felt like the composers were sharing their experience well throughout the book. A sense of the collective love and pride felt by the composers for each other, for their ancestral home in Orkney and the instrument that has provided them with so much throughout their lives provides a backing to an enjoyable collection of music. 

• The Stout Collection is available on Bandcamp, priced £16.00 plus shipping. A live book launch will be held during Piping Live! in the Street Café on August 11.